On The Road With The Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff

Today, the Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff stopped by Community Health Centers of Burlington to learn about their vaccination outreach efforts.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff  (Courtesy Photo by Katie Peters)

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff arrived at Community Health Centers of Burlington at 11:08 am.
 
He arrived in time to see Bishnu Subedi, a recent New American resident living in the Burlington area receive her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. 
 
Subedi spoke briefly with Mr. Emhoff about the importance of getting vaccinated, and why she hoped others would follow in her steps.
 
“These shots, they work, they’re painless,” Emhoff said. 
 
“ I want to be a part of ending this pandemic and that’s why I’m getting vaccinated,” said Subedi, 28, who arrived to the United States from Nepal in March of this year. 
 
As Subedi received her vaccination, Emhoff encouraged her that it would be alright.
 
“I did it twice, it’s all good,” he said. 

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Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger was followed by Lt. Gov. Molly Gray.
 
“I think the most important thing is, as we come out of this pandemic and as we complete our recovery, that we have a more equitable system,” Gray said.
 
The lieutenant governor highlighted the need for increased affordable access to broadband for Vermont’s rural and aging population. Vermont ranks as one of the oldest states in the nation, Gray added, with a majority of rural and aging counties experiencing “more deaths than births”.
 
“We’ve been talking about broadband all over the country, we talked about it, (Gov. Scott) and I, beforehand about how important it is, especially the relationship between broadband, rural communities and health,” Emhoff said.
 
“As rural facilities close down or become less available and we’re relying more on telehealth and internet health and there is no broadband, how are we going to handle that problem?”
 
Lt Gov. Gray was followed by Gov. Phil Scott, sitting next to Emhoff. The governor spoke briefly about the state’s track record during the pandemic, as Vermont has had one of the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths and cases in the continental United States.
 
“We’re one big city here in Vermont and that’s why we’re so successful, because everyone is doing their part and we’re all just spokes in the wheel,” said Scott.
 
The governor finished his remarks by encouraging both Emhoff and Vice President Kamala Harris to visit Vermont for vacation at some point in the near future.
 
“I grew up in New Jersey and I use to come skiing at Stratton and Killington several times a winter,” Emhoff said. Stratton Mountain Resort and Killington Ski Resort are popular skiing and snowboarding destinations both located in the southern half of Vermont.
 
“My dad somehow back in the 60s decided to get these little kids skiing,” he added. “He laced up my little boots, strapped me in my little wood skis. The lessons were basically they’d pushed me down the mountain and say ‘don’t fall’.”
 
The second gentleman went on to praise Vermont’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
“You in Vermont, the leaders here--state, local and federal--are showing the way in how we can all do this,” Emhoff said.

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Following remarks by CHCB Chief Medical Officer Dr. Heather Stein, CHCB Nurse Manager Alicia Schwarz, and Grand Isle Volunteer Fire Department Firefighter William “Bill” Baron, Mr. Emhoff asked them all how they were addressing vaccine skepticism and the digital divide among rural Vermonters.
 
“In most of our visits, our clinicians, our nurses, are talking to our patients about why we care about them, and why because we care them and care about their neighbors, and family, it’s so important for them to get vaccinated,” said Stein. The health clinic has also partnered with a local housing trust to create a mobile clinic to test and vaccinate houseless Vermonters staying at transitional housing sites and regional lodging areas.
 
“When folks come to these clinics, they see familiar faces,” said Baron. The volunteer fire department has opened up its doors as a “safe haven” for local health clinics, Baron added, ensuring older residents have access to the vaccine within their area. 
 
To ensure that information reached all parts of their community, Baron added, officials have posted information in local newspapers and through the community social network app Front Porch Forum.
 
By 12 p.m., the roundtable wrapped up with closing remarks from the second gentleman who praised health care workers at the Community Health Centers of Burlington for their continual work and resilience through the pandemic. 
 
“This is such an unprecedented crisis that it’s really all hands on deck,” Emhoff said. The second gentleman also spoke about his role in  
 
“It’s just a great opportunity to have this role because I get to travel around the country, and I get to really see what’s going on, and I heard some issues, and I heard some stuff from the governor and the other great leaders, and take it back, and so we try to make things better.”
 
Emhoff ended his stop by taking photographs with clinic staff and state officials.

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At 12:35 p.m., Mr. Emhoff arrived to Old North End Community Center, about a five-minute drive from the Community Health Centers of Burlington.
 
Upon entering the building and walking into the main gymnasium, the second gentleman was greeted with a performance by local musician and social worker Irene “KeruBo” Webster. Webster works as a case manager with the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV), assisting Swahili-speaking New American residents in the Burlington area.
 
AALV is one of the organizations in Vermont that has spearheaded efforts to translate and disseminate public health information about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine to New American residents.
 
Webster sang a song she wrote titled “Chanjo” – the Swahili word for “vaccine”. The song is written in the Swahili language, and its content highlights coronavirus safety measures and encourages local residents to get vaccinated.
 
Following the performance, Emhoff asked Webster about the significance behind the song. Webster explained that many of the clients and community members she knows and works with had concerns and fears about the COVID-19 vaccine, stemming primarily from misinformation circulated on social media, and the legacy of colonization as a source of distrust against vaccinations for New Americans.
 
“The history of what has been happening in Africa, the colonization, the big pharmacies doing trials and experiments without the consent of families…just that mistrust was causing these families to not engage in this effort,” Webster said. 
 
Webster added that since writing the song and releasing an accompanying music video, she has seen increased turnout among New American residents at vaccine clinics.
 
“The work you do in your community is so important,” Emhoff said. “If they have folks that they trust, that they know, they’re more likely to receive (the vaccine).”
 
That concluded Mr. Emhoff’s visit.

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